From serial killers to ghosts to zombies, these are the best horror movies of the 21st century that keep us up at night!
From the slashers of the early 2000s to the renaissance of ghost stories and monster movies of the 2010s, the 21st century has been a rollercoaster for the beloved horror genre. However, for all the deep lows that the genre had to incur during the time, there have been some highs that have ended up being some of the best entries in the genre. In fact, to some, the 21st century has proven to be a second golden age for horror. Why? Because horror filmmakers have been able to honor the genre’s roots while infusing them with modern sensibilities. So, here are some of the best horror movies of the 21st century in reverse chronological order!
Note: We’ll be updating this list whenever another great horror movie comes up!
Other Note: Click on the titles to watch the movies on Amazon!
Last Note: What’re your favorite horror movies of the 21st century? Let us know in the comments!
As one of the few horror remakes to improve upon the original, The Crazies is unrightfully dismissed. It is by no means a perfect movie. However, it does what any horror movie sets out to do. It balances great scares and chills with an intriguing plot while giving us characters that you can actually root for. It’s lean and efficient — which is what it does better than the original — without making the audience feel like they’ve been cheated out of a fully formed story. In particular, the set-pieces are marvelous and chilling. The pitchfork scene, which is teased in the poster, will get your heart pumping. Does it go anywhere past its B-movie premise? No. But it’s entertaining enough to forgive it for its mistakes.
For some reason, crafting a horror movie around Halloween is a task that few filmmakers have been able to do. John Carpenter’s original Halloween is perhaps the only exception — unless you count Hocus Pocus as a horror movie. Then comes along the little film Trick r’ Treat directed by Dougherty. This anthology film is split into six distinct stories that take place in the same town on Halloween. However, the reason it’s one of the best horror movies of the century is its ability to make you feel nostalgic for the holiday. With good old fashioned scares and a storytelling style that makes it feel like you’re sitting around a campfire listening to ghost stories, Trick r’ Treat was able to turn itself into necessary Halloween viewing.
My one condition for The Mist being on this list is that it must be watched in black and white (it’s available here). When you watch the monochromatic version — the preferred one of director Frank Darabont — The Mist unfolds as an extended Twilight Zone episode before turning into an homage to the creature features of the 50s. However, what makes this one of the best horror movies of the century is its focus on the characters and their reactions to the apocalyptic event. If anything, the scariest part of the movie isn’t the monsters outside, but the human inside. Human nature can be a terrifying thing when it’s done right and The Mist certainly gets it right.
Found footage is a hard filmmaking style to apply to the horror genre, which means that it rarely works. However, a few gems were able to rise above the rest like Paranormal Activity (2007) and Unfriended (2015). Still, there is one clear high for the genre from this century.
I’m coupling 2007 Spanish film [REC] and the 2008 English-language remake Quarantine together since the latter is essentially a shot-for-shot remake of the former. Found footage is hard to pull off. In terms of horror, only one movie was able to effectively use the genre to its full potential — The Blair Witch Project. However, [REC] finally took the concept of found footage and unlocked it for everything it is worth. By setting the film in the claustrophobic setting of an apartment complex, Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza were able to create a slow-building but completely terrifying dip into a Hell on Earth like none committed to film. What makes the movie so effective is its sense of space. It uses the spiraling staircase, dark corners, and winding passages to set you on edge and disorient you while the characters on screen fight for their lives. Then, we’re treated to one of the most chilling and horrifying endings to a horror movie.
The Descent (2005)
With its claustrophobic setting, dark cinematography, and tension-filled set pieces, Alien is indisputably one of the best monster movies ever made. Almost no movie has been able to fill the massive gap left by it, even sequels to the series. That’s why Neil Marshall’s 2005 The Descent is one of the best horror movies of the 21st century. Instead of a spaceship, The Descent takes place in a winding cave that never seems to end and has never seen light. Instead of an alien, there are subterranean humanoids tormenting the group of spelunkers. The amount of screentime the monsters are given, like Alien, is minimal, which only adds to the dread when they show up. However, in true horror fashion, the scariest moments are the ones when they aren’t on screen. Lurking around the next bend, perhaps.
While Danny Boyle might be more widely known for 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire, most cinephiles will know him as the man who brought us one of the best zombie movies of all time with 28 Days Later. What makes the movie so effective (other than the fact that this is the first time that zombies could run faster than a pathetic gallop) is its sense of desolation and desperation. The first ten minutes after the cold open are perhaps some of the best filmmaking of the early 2000s. The composition of the shots aren’t just beautiful, but they remind us just how alone Jim (Cillian Murphy) is in his hospital scrubs and his lonely plastic bag. However, when he finally encounters Selena (Naomi Harris) it turns into a movie about humanity and inhumanity in the face of destruction.
This is a phrase that haunted my early adolescent years when I watched The Ring — probably way earlier than I should have. However, that fear wasn’t just my young self scared of the killer videotape at the center of the movie. The Ring is one of the most effective horror movies of the early 2000s, which was right when gore was being mistaken for horror. Instead, The Ring — with almost no gore at all — uses disturbing imagery and smart, well-executed horror set pieces to give viewers a sense of dread. Interestingly, the movie has little score, which has quickly become one of the essential horror movie staples. Instead, the movie sets up its shots in a way that make you fear what’s lurking behind the camera or around the corner or in your television.
Okay, stay with me here. Final Destination has a lot of issues — cringeworthy dialogue, questionable performances — however, I’d be lying if I said this movie isn’t one that shaped my taste in horror. This is one of the two movies of the series to not feature explicit gore/torture porn. Instead, it gets its scares by carefully ratcheting up the tension slowly until the inevitable snap at the end of each character death. If anything, Final Destination tapped into what every horror movie is trying to tap into — the fear of death. However, it’s the first movie where death is the actual villain. It’s a conceit that we’ve never seen before and this first installment is rich with genuine thrills and horror set pieces that are underrated. Call it an extended X-Files episode, but we buy what’s it’s selling.